Giorgia Anile 0000319142 LSC Corpus Driven Analysis of U.S. Presidents' Acceptance Speeches: a chronological observation of language.

1.1 Introduction
In this paper we will analyse – using the instruments of corpus linguistics and Systemic Functional Grammar – the acceptance speeches declaimed by presidents of the United States from Kennedy in 1960 to Reagan in 1980. No conclusions will be made after the analysis, as we do not want to demonstrate something a priori; the only aim of this analysis is to investigate language and its features in this particular text type. The link between politics and language is, at this point, not arguable. Language constructs reality, and politics is without any doubt part of this reality. Not only; we could also say that politics is completely constructed by language and in language, and so a careful analysis of its language may lead to a deeper understanding of all the strata of meaning in the political discourse. As Baily (2005: p.1) said, “politics is one of those spheres of institutional life in which language is largely, although not exclusively, constitutive of its actions” It is also notable that a single text will never be as autonomous as to be considered a completely self sufficient discourse. In this particular case, politic discourse is rather the result of an assimilated process of intertextuality. Anyway, any analyst should be extremely careful in the interpretation of political speech as the only strong way politicians may construct themselves or as the only reason for their success/insuccess. Political discourse has a pivotal role in the way the politician's image and character is constructed, but is definitely not the only factor to consider. Many other aspects should be carefully analysed, and any generalisation is dangerous since, as Hasan (1985: p.13) says, “an analysis is worthy of praise only when it is rigourous, its methods are retrievable and it can be replicated in any moment”.That's the reason why no biased conclusions will possibly be made after our analysis, and only evidence will be offered to the reader, leaving any possible interpretation to the reader's cognitive capabilities.

if required. Of course this consideration depends mostly on the purpose of our research. which are ordered by frequency. Both Corpus Linguistics and Systemic Functional Grammar are so considered rigourous methods capable of leading to a linguistic analysis which is nearly scientific. These lists start with the most frequent items and continue down to the single occurrences. but its instruments have shown their usefulness in investigating linguistic strata of meaning in political discourses. and a choice had to be made about what to insert in the paper.Every single speech has been treated as a corpus which has been explored through a corpus processor. Unitex (www-igm. thanks to this processor the token lists of these speeches were extracted.univ-mlv. and were transcribed only until occurrence number 8. Thanks to token lists. For this reason. and the aim of our creation. in this occasion it is impossible to do it. complete token lists will be presented. with its specific rules about how to be balanced. Anyway. . In a vaster portion of text even single occurrences may be significant. and will be later analysed using the instruments of Systemic Functional Grammar – considering it obvious that only lexical words will be analysed. in this case only very frequent words are considered relevant. 1. Not all the information is needed every time. not everything that can be counted counts”). But in such short texts very low frequency words are definitely not interesting. It may be a general corpus. Even if a complete list of what is inside the corpus should be published. considering that words with a very low frequency would not be significant as far as our analysis is concerned. we can quickly observe how words are distributed in the corpus. and because of space and time complications the token lists in this paper are not complete.2. It has to be said that the analysis of political discourse is not the main activity of Systemic Functional Grammar. Corpus Creation But what are the considerations that are relevant to the creation of a corpus? First of all it has to be decided what kind of corpus we're going to create. as Einstein said “Not everything that counts can be counted. hence it is important to be able to select (or. as these methods are based (among all other factors) mainly on quantitative analysis which leads to evidence. and this information can be useful for different

So. and corpus processors help us because the text is first analysed and then tagged into parts of speech. or it may be a specific corpus (and that is our case) where a sample of a specific part of the living language is concerned. So. an adverb etc. only those words which acquire a specific meaning as far as political analysis is concerned were considered consistent for our research. a name.or representative. we could ask the corpus processor to look for a specific class of discourse: in this way the research would be extended to any word belonging to that class. this could mean that in the text there is a high percentage of nominalization. Here is the legend: Green= names Purple= verbs Red= deictics It is evident that only significant words have been put in evidence. . or consistent. or a verb. words as “applause” or verbs as “is” were not considered because their role in the whole structure and economy of this analysis was not relevant. to help distinguishing the different morpho-syntactic features of the words in the token lists . The process of defining legitimate words in a running text is referred to as word segmentation or tokenization (McEnery: 2005p. So. or an adverb. would it be a verb. a corpus which is annotated for parts of speech is useful both for disambiguating words and for classifying the occurrences of word classes in a corpus (example: a very low frequency of verbs rather than a very high frequency of names. basically. In this way. thanks to this system it is possible for us to look for a particular word working as a name. In POS annotation the text is divided into tokens. 35). Corpus linguistics is a very useful instrument in analysing huge portions of text. any ambiguity is avoided. a colour was given to distinguish every different grammatical word. a high frequency of nominalization may mean something in the economy of the text). POS tagging is one of the most widely used types of corpus annotation and now it is the most common type. More generally. and the corpus processor will give us all the occurrences of that word with that specific grammatical role.

. us) to include the interlocutors and to conceptualise identity. Anyway. the occurrence of a different use of deictics can be considered as a marked form. So it is utopia to think of a completely unbiased corpus driven exploration. Language in literature (as well as language in politics. Hasan says. rather than “you”) can offer evidence from the pragmatic point of view.3 Corpus based and Corpus driven analysis According to J. we should look at the language in the text. “the beginning of any corpus study is the creation of the corpus itself” (1991: p. more specifically. Actually. it is important to say that every grammatical class we considered in this analysis has a pivotal role in the economy of the text. as there is no such thing.Moreover. Basically. and so it is consistent in order to explore different strata of meaning in the text. our. the decisions we take about what is considerably consistent to be put in the corpus and what is not. Particularly in translation studies. if lexical words and the process of nominalization can offer evidence for a very low use of verbs and processes (and the low use of verbs and processes is supposed to mean something) also a high presence of deixis (and. So. 1. we may define a text as belonging to a particular sphere only considering its functions.1). and not at the language of a text. any analysis should give a pivotal role to the purpose of the text. that there is no way we can define a text a priori. control almost everything that happens. or language in newspapers) can be defined only if the analysis aims at the exploration and discovery of how language works in a particular part of discourse. or advertising language). if in political speeches deictics are used in the first person plural (we. there is simply no way we can define the existence of a “political language” (as well as poetic language. a high frequency of some specific deixis – such as “I” rather than “we” . Sinclair. According to Skopos Theory. formulated by Vermeer in 1970 and basically applied in translation studies. knowing why a text has been written helps translators determining which are the methodologies to be applied while translating the text. about the definition of literature.

as Baily said. in those text where the addressee must be involved for some reason. Let's now analyse names and verbs. as a corpus won't show evidence about possibility (it only shows evidence about frequency) and cannot show anything more than its own content what we will try to do is to offer evidence rather than information. trying to be as unbiased as possible. indicating commitment and that typical involvement which cannot be absent in politics. Only the presence of some words rather than other words. . as it were. So the presence and frequency of these words that appear to be consistent and relevant in these political speeches will be analysed and used as a resource to re-construe reality that is. So none of these subject studies will be involved in this research.In the corpus driven approach we try to find explanations that fit evidence rather than adjusting the evidence to fit a pre-set explanation. often the corpus driven approach is compared to an intuition based approach. In other words. intuition is considered unreliable in judgements about phraseology. semantic prosody. creating a mutual commitment between the speaker and the listener. will be analysed. pragmatic meaning and collocation. As a matter of fact. The most significantly frequent deictics are: 32 28 26 our we I These are the deictics typically used in political speeches or. more generally. sometimes very far from the real evidence of the world. Verbs will be analysed according to transitivity and modality. In particular in political speech.4 Kennedy's Acceptance Speech: 1960 Let's give a quick look at language in Kennedy's Acceptance Speech in 1960. 1. one will presumably find a high percentage of 1st person personal pronouns. and some expressions rather than other expressions.

5 Nixon's Acceptance Speech: 1968 In this discourse. 1.Lexical Words: 10 9 9 8 men nation future frontier Verbs: 15 8 8 will shall can modality: deontic: willingness modality: deontic: duty modality: epistemic: possibility The first thing that jumps to the eye is that there is some coherence between names and verbs in the text: we talk about men and their possibilities: (can. as well as in the other. No surprise that we found: 60 37 25 23 we I our We . the most frequent words are deictics. their nation and and their future (will). What is interesting is that no significant verbs are found in the text (considering the verb “to be” and “to have” as ordinary verbs in any text) except from verbs expressing modality (at various degrees). shall). we talk about men.

time and so on: very general names that are expected to be found in a political acceptance speech of an american president. so. But then something happens: we find a series of names representing ideals and human values. peace.No marked form. order and respect. the most frequent words are war. world. “war”. years. There is objectively some sort of balance between the appearance of the word “peace” and its antonym. which occur 11 times each. which we haven't found in Kennedy's speech. as these deictics are what we expect in a political speech. nation. For what concerns lexical words. 11 11 11 11 9 9 war peace order respect progress history Here are the verbs found in this speech: 27 14 will can modality: deontic: willingness modality: epistemic: possibility . Consider that during Nixon's presidency (so from 1968 on) the Vietnam war was in progress (in fact it started in 1964 during Johnson's presidency). no surprises here when we talk about America. here are the most significant ones: 54 27 22 21 20 18 12 America world nation years time Americans country Again.

where an actor and a goal have to be present to perform the action. This could mean a call for commitment. For the first time we have “you”. with 15 occurrences. basically all the verbs are expressing possibility. 1. So the interlocutor is called directly in this speech as to involve him in some actions that have to be performed. and “your”.6 Nixon's Acceptance Speech: 1972 If we have a look at Nixon's acceptance speech in 1972 we note something different even in analysing deictics. some marked forms of deictics finally appear.11 9 shall win modality: deontic: duty transitivity: material process Here again. the only real process is material (to win). duty or willingness at some degree. with 30 occurrences. 76 66 63 30 30 20 15 I we our you us my your Let's have a look at the lexical words we found: 46 37 32 23 23 America world peace people Americans . Apart from the usual expected forms of first person singular/plural personal pronouns.

occurring 11 and 10 times each. 1. the more responsibility we have. as the more specific it gets. in this speech we have two examples of more specific human actors: “fellow” and “president”. Here are the verbs found in this speech: 25 23 21 13 10 10 8 can would will say made ask believe modality: epistemic: possibility modality: epistemic: possibility modality: deontic: willingness transitivity: verbal process transitivity: material process transitivity: verbal process transitivity: mental process Again we have verbs expressing possibility (only epistemic modality was found) and other verbs expressing processes (2 verbal processes.7 Carter's Acceptance Speech: 1972 Again we start our analysis looking at deixis present in the text: once more – not . 1 material process). This could indicate more involvement and commitment in the speech. 1 mental process.16 14 12 12 11 10 10 9 8 war years convention country fellow Vietnam President home arms What jumps to the eye here is that for the first time until the beginning of our analysis we have less generalisation for what concerns human actors.

we only have two verbs expressing possibility and willingness. 18 15 can will modality: epistemic: possibility modality: deontic: willingness . and only one occurrence of a more specific name designing one person in particular: the “President”. once again we have very general actors. 56 37 32 29 17 12 our we I We us you For what concerns names. occurring 12 times. there is a high percentage of lexical words representing groups of human participants. and one instance (the less frequent one) of a second person pronoun: “you”. occurring only 12 times. or to have) . 23 20 19 18 16 12 9 9 8 people government America time nation President year country party Moreover.surprisingly – we have first personal singular/plural pronouns. we have a very low presence of verbs (apart from “expected” auxiliary verbs such as the verb to be.

considering the norm in this text type a strong presence of first person pronouns. as the most frequent in the speech. one in the possessive form. 81 61 48 33 12 12 10 8 our we I us my them you your For what concerns lexical words. in this speech we have quite an interesting stream of words.8 Reagan's Acceptance Speech: 1980 We start again our analysis giving a look at deixis present in the text. finally. Then. two 2nd person pronouns.1. 38 31 17 14 13 12 12 12 11 people government world America years administration tax nation time . which I would consider a marked form. we have 12 occurrences of a third person plural pronoun: “them”. And. What is interesting is that we have a first person possessive pronoun: “my” which may express some sort of commitment in the discourse. as usual we find first person singular/plural pronouns.

These issues were probably present also before Regan's speech. So. money. such as taxes. leadership”: these are concepts which we can say are totally new in our diachronic analysis. but the different approach to lexical words in this political speech is obviously very different from what we've seen until now. and the message he presumably wants to transmit. means that something in the rhetorical structure of the political speech is changing. Speaking about specific issues.10 10 9 9 9 8 8 8 8 president leadership freedom lives values money energy problems state After the usual series of very general words we find in political speeches (people. In his speech Regan also speaks about “problems”. such as “administration. some new issues were explicitly treated. government. the evidence is basically that. America) we finally start finding more specific lexical words. world. but what to mention or not to mention in a discourse is something which is really linked only to the speaker's attitude. We don't want to make conclusions as far as one isolated instance is concerned. energy. in this speech. tax. Another brand new word appears in Regan's speech: “freedom”. Let's now observe the main verbs found in the speech: 32 15 8 8 8 will must believe trust make modality: deontic: willingness modality: epistemic: obligation transitivity: mental process transitivity: mental process transitivity: material process . a brand new word (and a brand new concept) in our acceptance speeches.

which occurs in the text 9 times. all these speeches have their own peculiarities. It is interesting to observe that war and peace have the same weight in the discourse – as far as the quantitative economy of the text is concerned. except for “war”. nation and the world. he talks about war. trying to give a diachronic mirror of their structures and how they change in the time. there is coherence between the various part of speech present in this text. compared to “peace” which appeared 32 times. Four years later. after the usual stream of quite general words concerning people. Generally. peace. for the use of deictics. In Nixon. here. progress. the most frequent words are quite general ones. we finally have a material process with the apparition of the verb “to win”. as the President uses 2nd person singular/plural personal pronouns. First of all. we finally have an interesting use of the word “war”. we find new instances of verbs we've never met in our analysis. which lead to a deep involvement and commitment of the addressee. order and respect. all the concepts he talks about have positive connotations. for the choice of names and verbs to say. which appears only 16 times. once again. all the verbs were expressing modality at some degree. except one. Moreover. Conclusions It is absolutely unreal to think that some general rules can be formulated after such a superficial analysis of the text. it has to be noticed that the most frequent verbs are very much into modality: will and must. but then he goes on making explicit some concept which were not shown in the precedent speech. We should strongly deepen our knowledge of the corpus to be allowed to give something which we could refer to as “truth”. in Nixon's speech of 1972 we have a marked use of deictics. the use of deictics is still “ordinary”.Again. . For what concerns lexical words. Kennedy's speech was maybe the most traditional speech. In Nixon's speech. which is anyway surrounded by words expressing very positive values. Giving a look at them from Kennedy's in 1960 to Reagan in 1980 it is possible to investigate these peculiarities. maybe asking for commitment. Then we find some new verbs with very strong implications. but nothing really is distinguishing itself – as far as linguistic analysis is concerned. Anyway. The period was notably that of the Vietnam war.

This is quite a big change in what we've seen until now. A massive use of material processes would probably be a very strong responsibility for a politician: these kinds of processes are very concerned with reality. in my opinion. Linguistics.. the most frequent ones are again involved in modality. 2005. 3. Oxford. the president speaks about the future. Regan's one in 1980. and so are verbs pronounced by someone who will possibly take responsibility for what he says. For what concerns verbs. what jumps to the eye is that we're getting much more into the specific: among the occurrences we find “Vietnam”. finally giving a concrete name to this war. verbs that let the reader come into the discourse – which may be considered as the most efficient way to let the message arrive. we find in the last discourse.MCENERY E. with “will” and “must”. Australia... And then we finally have a series of processes. TONO Y 2005. 1985/1989. Corpus . epistemic and deontic at various degrees. Deakin University Press. only involving possibilities. While a massive use of modality leaves the discourse open.Based Language . 2 mental and 1 material.). or possibility. Studies: an advanced resource book. what has to be done and how these changes would concretise.): (s. So. London. expressing very strong values such as trust and exactly the double. especially of this type. with less responsibilities. the use of verbs expressing modality is. Language and Verbal Art. for example.. Oxford University Press.HASAN R. about what will happen.l. Analysing Language and Politics. Routledge. 1 (s. 1 mental process. which – anyway – express the highest degree of possibility and obligation. at different degrees.BAILEY P. and offer no interpretation to the reader. as the only instances of verbs we found in these speeches were verbs expressing willingness. . in particular: 2 verbal processes. very appropriate in political speeches. And we also have a list of processes.n.. During his acceptance speech. Moreover. 1 material process. 2. XIAO R. MediAzioni. Bibliography 1. another different way of using verbs: we still have the main occurrences as modality.

5. concordance. collocation.l.VERMEER H. Oxford University Press..SINCLAIR J.4. 1996. 1991. . (s.). Corpus. A skopos theory of translation TEXTconTEXT Verlag: Heidelberg..